Public Speaking Body Language Part One: Energy

This is the first article in an eight-part series covering the most important elements of body language for public speaking. Click here to read the entire series.

Think about the people sitting in the audience of a typical business presentation.

Some of the audience members may have slept for just a few hours the previous night. A few may have jetlag. One or two may be hungover. Others may be distracted by personal problems at home. Or the 300 emails awaiting their return to the office. Or their suitcase, which the airline managed to lose on their incoming flight.

As much as we’d like to believe that the people in your audience are automatically conditioned to soak up your every word, they aren’t. They have their own thoughts, priorities, conflicts, stresses, fears, and goals.

You have to earn their attention. Then, you have to keep it.

There are many ways to win and maintain their attention, but your energy as a speaker is one of the most important. Your job is to push energy to your audience. That may be intuitive, but it’s also easier said than done. I’ve learned through the years that most people are terrible judges of how much energy they project to an audience.

As an example, several times each year, I see our public speaking trainees walk to the lectern, set down their papers, look up, and say, “Thank you very much. I’m very excited to be here.” But much of the time, they utter that line without any discernible excitement. They’re saying that they’re happy to be there, but their voices and bodies send the exact opposite message.

Most of those trainees are surprised when I tell them they looked flat. But when we play back the video of their speech, they recognize I was right.

For the second take, I encourage the speakers to go “bigger,” often way past their comfort zone. When we watch back the video of that take together, they’re almost always pleasantly surprised by how good they looked. That same dynamic is true not only for the opening few lines, but for their entire presentations.

Therefore, focus on being the most energetic and passionate version of you. Think about when you’re sitting in your living room with an old friend, reliving memories of your schooldays. You’re probably a bit louder than usual, a little more demonstrative, and a lot more interesting.

If you’re having a tough time bringing that more enthusiastic version of yourself to your presentations, try speaking 10 – 15 percent louder than usual. Many people fear that the increased volume will make them come across too loudly. And sure, we need to dial back the occasional trainee who goes too far. But that’s rare. The vast majority of the time, speakers can hit the gas and be even more energetic.

So don’t hold back. If you care about your topic, make sure the audience can tell just by looking at you.

Click here to read the entire series, which covers energy, tone, eye contact, gestures, posture, where to stand, how to interact with PowerPoint, and voice.